Blessing high schooler helmets treads on constitution

The Freedom From Religion Foundation fired off a letter to the Redlands [Calif.] Unified School District over a serious violation of the separation of church and state occurring at Redlands High School football practices and games. A complainant informed FFRF, which has over 15,500 members nationwide and 2,450 members in California, that the team and coach regularly recite the Lord's Prayer and traditionally open the first practice of the season with a "blessing of the helmets."

"First and foremost, it is illegal for a public school athletic coach to be leading his team in prayer," remarked FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. "The Supreme Court has continually struck down formal and teacher or school-led prayer in public schools."

"Federal law dictates that government employees must refrain from actively participating in religious activities while acting within their governmental role to avoid any perception of government endorsement of religion," the Foundation's letter noted.

This year, as reported in the Redlands Daily Facts, the team's coach invited Larry White, a pastor from Horizon Church in Victorville, Calif., to deliver the "blessing of the helmets" prayer. Horizon Church's mission, according to its own Web site, is "to help people find their CREATOR, figure out their CAUSE, and fulfill God's COMMISSION."

"Each of the ministries at Horizon has a goal of sharing the love and compassion of Jesus Christ," the Horizon Church Web site states.

The Foundation charged that the team's coach "has repeatedly violated the Constitution." The coach, as a representative of the school and district, "cannot be allowed to engage in religious ritual with students or encourage his student athletes to have particular religious beliefs."

"Establishment Clause concerns are especially heightened given the coercive pressure for student athletes to follow the direction of their coach," said Elliott.

The Foundation requested an immediate investigation by the district into the prayerful practices of the Redlands High School football team, and expressed concerns that such violations may be occurring elsewhere in the district. Elliott has requested in writing the steps the district is taking to remedy this serious violation of the First Amendment.

"A 'blessing of the helmets' is not only illegal in a public school, but ranks right up there with the most absurd of superstitious silliness," commented Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "Talk about anti-intellectualism! Public schools are supposed to enlighten, not dummy down."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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